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Media and Political Bulletin – 02 July 2020

Media and Political Bulletin

02 July 2020

Media Summary

Stockpiling drugs likely as countries compete for protection

The Times, 01 July 2020, Rhys Blakely

The Times reports that countries are likely to stockpile drugs that would protect their population from coronavirus. We have witnessed this in recent weeks, with America buying up virtually all of the remdesivir due to be produced over the next three months, and the UK government banning exports of dexamethasone.

However, it would seem that mechanisms have been developed to allow for the equitable distribution of drugs and vaccines. Astrazeneca has said it can produce two billion doses of a candidate Covid-19 jab being developed by Oxford University, and plans to establish several production chains in parallel in different parts of the world to minimise bottlenecks.

Another British vaccines team, based at Imperial College London, have pledged to make their jab available at the lowest possible cost in the developing world; and Gilead has signed agreements to make remdesivir available to poorer countries. But the Times reports that in the short term, bottlenecks, panic buying and what analysts have termed “vaccine nationalism” are probably unavoidable.

Parliamentary Coverage

Northern Ireland Executive – £13.25m funding and commissioning agreement announced for Community

A new £13.25 million funding package for community pharmacy has been announced today by Health Minister Robin Swann.

This funding is being made available up to March 2021 and is in addition to a confirmed recurrent financial envelope of £112.4m for 2020/21. It also adds to a previous investment of £7.5m for the period April to June 2020 which ensured that pharmacies could continue to maintain the supply of essential medicines during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Full Coverage

Stockpiling drugs likely as countries compete for protection

The Times, 01 July 2020, Rhys Blakely

President Trump often sounds like a coronavirus sceptic, but when it comes to stockpiling treatments his approach is unabashedly America first. That his administration has bought up virtually all of the remdesivir due to be produced over the next three months by Gilead, the drugmaker that invented the antiviral medicine, is not surprising. The drug is one of only two that have been shown to help coronavirus patients and supplies are tight.

Britain would probably have done something similar given the chance; last month the UK government banned exports of dexamethasone, a cheap and widely available steroid that is the still the only drug that has been proven to save the lives of Covid patients.

Resources become scarce during pandemics and countries would be foolish to count on the generosity of neighbours during a global outbreak.

However, mechanisms have been developed to allow for the equitable distribution of drugs and vaccines. Astrazeneca, the British drugs company, has pledged to supply the UK with 100 million doses of a candidate Covid-19 jab being developed by Oxford University. It has said that the NHS will have “first dibs” if it works.

This is a small portion of the two billion doses that Astrazeneca has said it can produce in total. The company plans to establish several production chains in parallel in different parts of the world to minimise bottlenecks. It has a partnership, for instance, with the largest vaccine maker in the world, the Serum Institute of India. It has also promised to supply the vaccine without making profits during the pandemic.

Another British vaccines team, based at Imperial College London and led by Professor Robin Shattock, have pledged to make their jab available at the lowest possible cost in the developing world. If it works it would be licensed to outside manufacturers via a “social enterprise” company called VacEquity Global Health (VGH), which would waive royalty payments. VGH is being supported by Imperial and by Morningside Ventures, an investment company run by the billionaire Chan family of Hong Kong.

One key organisation is the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, the European Commission and seven nations. Founded in 2017, it is backing nine vaccine projects — including Oxford’s and Imperial’s — and has committed itself to making supplies available across the globe as fairly as possible.

There is also a mechanism in place to make remdesivir available to poorer countries. Gilead has signed agreements with generic pharmaceutical manufacturers based in Egypt, India and Pakistan. They will be allowed to produce the drug for distribution in 127 nations — though that list does not include the UK.

In the short term, however, bottlenecks, panic buying and what analysts have termed “vaccine nationalism” are probably unavoidable. We have seen it before; during the 2009 swine flu epidemic rich countries swooped in to buy up vaccine stocks.

Global relationships may be remade in the months to come. There is a good chance that the first vaccine for Covid-19 could come from China. How Beijing would choose to share it is unknown.

Covid-19 has become notorious among clinicians as an unpredictable disease. The distribution of drugs and vaccines may be just as capricious.

Media and Political Bulletin – 02 July 2020

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